The group has surrendered
On July 17, a group of armed people seized an area of the Erebuni patrol police regiment, demanding the release of Jirayr Sefilian, an oppositionist, who had been arrested one month prior. Jirayr Sefilian, the Founding Parliament leader, was arrested for the illegal procurement of, possession of and trafficking of firearms and ammunition.
On July 17, the rebels, representing the Sasna Tsrer movement, insisted that Sefilian should be brought to the seized territory, claiming they would obey only his orders. In addition to this, armed group members demanded the resignation of the Armenian President, Serzh Sargsyan. Support for group members and its demands has grown into a protest movement, which has no clear-cut leaders so far.
Varuzhan Avetisyan, the Sasna Tsrer armed group member, called the editorial office of the 1in.am online channel and reported that the group had decided to surrender in the status of the prisoners of war. In Avetisyan’s words, the police injured several militants over the past few days, many of them were wounded in their legs. Today, a sniper wounded one of the group members in his chest. There are about 20 of them left now in the territory of the patrol police regiment. As he also reported, for certain reasons they had launched negotiations since last night.
Finally, in Avetisyan’s words, they were to choose between two options: either to start fighting with the police and shed the blood of those, who have little to do with the regime, or not to resort to the bloodshed and assume a ‘prisoner of war’ status. It was a difficult decision for them, but they made it at last.
Avetisyan once again stressed that they considered their mission as accomplished – the people’s protest has started.
An official statement has been already voiced on air of the 1st Public TV Channel: the group has surrendered.
Chronology of developments
from 2 p.m., July 30 till 2p.m., July 31, 2016
There were a lot of people making a lot of statements in this period of time. The latest one was made early on July 31 by Albert Baghdasaryan, a member of the Anti-Crisis Initiative Board which is coordinating the protest movement. He wrote on his Facebook page: the board has ceased all activity, since the majority of its members have either been detained, arrested or can’t coordinate the movement for some other reasons.
Baghdasaryan stated that it was pointless and ineffective to act alone on behalf of the Board. He has transferred this responsibility onto individuals who are trusted by the populace and has called on MPs to head the movement started by the Sasna Tsrer group, and for them not to be alone.
This was preceded by the Anti-crisis Initiative Board’s statement, released on July 30. As it was made clear in the statement, on July 29 the police used brute force against the demonstrators and journalists; they detained and arrested board members, in doing so, paralyzing its activity. The Board called for the “self-organization of citizens and for the continuation of the struggle and disobedience campaign.
Meanwhile, the National Security Service (NSS) warned citizens that any attempts to trespass into the blocked-off area around the seized patrol police regiment would be regarded as complicity in a terrorist act, and all individuals involved would be subject to criminal sanctions irrespective of who they are.
The NSS also released a video recording of the testimony made by Artur Melkonyan, one of the armed group’s members wounded in the seized patrol police regiment and taken to the hospital. In Melkonyan’s words, some participants in the armed group had no idea where they were going or why they were doing what they were doing.
The police called on the population to discontinue dangerous activities, to refrain from organizing marches in the vicinity of the blocked area and stop posing additional problems to law-enforcers.
Jirayr Sefilian, who is staying in the Vardashen pre-trial detention facility, also released a statement, saying his friends had been trying to offer assistance and increase public opposition for 14 days. He stressed that the everyone should realize that they were sacrificing themselves for the sake of a free, fair, democratic and independent Armenian state:
“Until now, it’s been very difficult to keep silent, but I’ve held back in order to prevent bloodshed and not to hinder the negotiation process. However, Serzh Sargsyan doesn’t intend to solve the problem through discussions. He has chosen the bloody path of moral attrition and taking out the rebels …In order to stop the bloodshed, I suggest the creation of a human shield between the patrol police regiment [the territory seized by the armed group] and the police.
This certainly requires a larger number of people. Only in this manner can we urge the regime to accept the people’s demands and participate in talks, so as to ‘strike a happy medium’ that is not a win or loss for either side.
The Prosecutor General’s Office announced that it was collecting information on the cases of violence against the journalists, committed on the night of July 29 in the streets adjacent to the seized patrol police regiment. As reported, the appropriate criminal proceedings have been also instituted by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
However, 11 journalistic organizations issued a response statement, in which they termed the law-enforcement agency’s promise to investigate the cases of violence against journalists as ‘ludicrous.’
As they pointed out, their numerous statements and appeals to stop physical violence and to not interfere with the journalists’ professional activity have not been responded as of yet. Therefore, media organizations consider it ‘pointless to demand anything from the police and other law-enforcement agencies,’ and they reserve the right to use other legal methods to protect the rights of journalists.
On July 30, the NSS once again called on Sasna Tsrer members to lay down their arms and surrender without any resistance before 5 p.m.
However, not only did the armed group’s members refuse to surrender by the set time, but they opened fire, killing one police officer, Yura Tepanosyan (DoB 1986). There is no information explaining the causes of and the reasons for the incident. There has only been a report that a sniper fired at a police officer, who was in a vehicle located 350-400 meters away.
Varuzhan Avetisyan, a Sasna Tsrer group member, made a statement following this event, “We would like to assure you that it wasn’t the gunshot of one of our members that killed the police officer.
Prior to July 17, such an incident would have garnered the public attention’s for quite a long time. Whereas now, it has gone unnoticed. The revolutionary spirit and inspiration about the chance for change, has come to the point where neither the lack of leadership, the differences between the people who still try to coordinate the movement, nor the absence of any clear-cut goals (even for the following evening: which route a procession is going to follow), make the people feel disappointed.
During a traditional rally on Freedom Square on July 30, an Anti-Crisis Initiative Board member, Albert Aghdasaryan, stated, “There have been reports that the Sasna Tsrer group’s members will be taken out. Authorities are acting based on the soviet principle -‘no man, no problem’.
Only two members of the Board participated in the rally. Rally participants once again appealed to MPs to take the microphone and lead the movement. Two lawmakers, who were present at the rally on Freedom Square, didn’t respond to their proposal.
It took the demonstrators a long time to decide which route to take for the protest march. Finally, they decided to block the roads and disrupt traffic in the center of the capital, showing that they are not scared by the police’s use of force on July 29.
The march was carried out peacefully, with the typical appeals to join the movement and put an end to the regime without bloodshed. The participants called on the powers at be to stop firing in the seized patrol police regiment. The police ensured the demonstrators that they would be able to move safely, but approaches to the president’s residence were blocked.
The procession stopped at the place where there had been a stay-in strike, a protest rally against the increase of tariffs one year ago. This place has become the symbol of a new wave, a new phase of the people’s struggle for their rights.
This day didn’t pass without incident. One protester attempted to light himself on fire, but he wasn’t allowed to do that. The fire was put out by protesters’ joint efforts.
The ‘self-organized’ struggle continues. Yet there are no volunteers to lead it.
On social media
Trend 1: The President will resign sooner or later
“I wonder what the composition of the Armenian ‘elite’ is in discussing the option of ‘giving up on’ Serzh Sargsyan. There is no doubt that this issue is being discussed. And also, I am sure, Serzh Sargsuyan is well-aware of it.
Trend 2: The victims of police violence on July 29 need to be supported
“Who is paying for the treatment of the people who suffered and who were brutally beaten by the police, as well as for criminals? Are they being provided with medical treatment for free, as it demanded by law or must they rehabilitate their health at their own expense? And what about the affected children, the damaged property? Are there any legal mechanisms to urge those who did harm to people’s health to cover the medical treatment costs from their pockets? Maybe this sum should be deducted from the police budget?
“The man who lost one eye, will be left alone with his lacerated face tomorrow. He will be alone, and will probably become acerbated. The owner of the house that was burned down will be alone with his problems. He will be alone, and probably ready to rebel, to join the uprising. The father of children frightened by the police may not be able to forgive tomorrow and will probably see the only way out as taking up arms.”
Igor Muradyan, an analyst, has expressed his opinion on the Lragir.am electronic media outlet’s website Lragir.am:
“Varuzhan Avetisyan [a member of the Sasna Tsrer group that seized the patrol police regiment] finally stated that Russia was directly linked to the uprising, but he offered no arguments.
But the problem doesn’t lie with this. The problem is that the uprising could have been of a broader scope if it had contained the demand to change relations with Russia-to annul treaties with Russia, including those with regard to Armenia’s membership in the CSTO, the Eurasian Union, and lastly, the air defence treaty. And, it mustn’t be forgotten, the most important thing that raises the Western community’s concerns – the military base in Gyumri, which has become an eyesore.
Armenia’s political leadership certainly regards Russia as a treacherous and suspicious nation that has lost its lost inkling of reliability. But the political leadership will never have enough will and determination to make a remark about that. Russians in Armenia have become a malicious bacterium, which has decided that Armenia is a colony…
Armenia has been brought to the point of impoverishment and has been subjected to the final waves of deportation of the population. Armenia will not be able to raise to its feet amidst such a huge number of defeatists, including those in Parliament who open their filthy mouth and call for territories in the Karabakh province to be yielded. Moreover, they call for them to be given them up to the benefit of Russia and Azerbaijan…
If that had happened in the very beginning of the uprising, Armenia would have woken up with some different thoughts… Should we lose the war only to realize that Russia is Armenia’s enemy?